Kubrick’s Candle Tricks in Barry Lyndon

Sneak Peeks — Jan 4, 2018

With his absorbing historical drama Barry Lyndon (1975)—an adaptation of a William Makepeace Thackeray novel that archly chronicles the fortunes of a scheming social climber (Ryan O’Neal) in eighteenth-century Europe—the famously exacting Stanley Kubrick set out to vividly evoke a vanished past. To create the authentic look of the film, which went on to win multiple technical Oscars, the filmmaker drew inspiration from the landscape painting and portraiture of artists of the period such as Thomas Gainsborough and William Hogarth, and went to unprecedented lengths during production. In particular, the film’s interior scenes—which Kubrick insisted on shooting primarily by candlelight—posed myriad challenges for cinematographer John Alcott and his team, necessitating not only the retrofitting of super-wide-aperture lenses but also various practical work-arounds on-set. In the clip above, taken from a supplemental program on our new edition of Barry Lyndon, focus puller Douglas Milsome and gaffer Lou Bogue recall the breath-shortening amount of oxygen consumed by the candles during shooting, and the crew’s eventual use of reflectors to amplify the illumination without also producing more heat and smoke.

You have no items in your shopping cart